Tag Archives: women composers

Why Are Pioneering Female Composers So Neglected?

I’m embarrassed by how late this is, but here’s a reminder announcement:

May first and May eighth, starting at 6:45pm, I’m giving a pre-concert talk at the James J. Hill House in St. Paul for the Hill House Chamber Players (most of whom are current or former Minnesota Orchestra players).

  • All the details, including ticket information, are here.
  • You can like their Facebook page, and read up on the women featured, here.

The program includes music by Lili Boulanger, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, and Gabriel Fauré. Fauré and Bach are my two favorite composers, so it’s a deeply meaningful program to me, and I hope to you, too. It certainly is a beautiful one.

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Hill House Chamber Players Concert!

Hey, guys! Anything new since my last entry in…November? Good. I’m glad everything has been so serene and uneventful.

Sorry about the break. I swear it has been unintentional. I’ve just been swamped by stuff in my personal life, the details of which I will not bore you with, and suddenly it’s March and we’re a few weeks away from planting our potted pansies. I’m alive, I’m well, and I’ll probably resurface in the blogosphere soon.

But I’m not writing about my not writing. I’m writing to remind you of the Hill House Chamber Players, a group I was honored to be asked to give pre-concert talks for during the 17/18 concert season. The Players consist of star Twin Cities musicians (including a few Minnesota Orchestra members) performing at the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. Their next concerts are being held Monday March 6 and Monday March 13th. Both nights feature the same marvelous programming: works by Mozart, Clara Schumann, and Rebecca Clarke. Pre-concert talks start at 6:45; the concert itself begins at 7:30.

I’ve got a copy of the script right next to me. If I was to give a bland description, I’d say it’s about the dual careers of Clara Schumann and Rebecca Clarke. If I was to give a slightly more provocative description, I’d say it’s about how the romantic hero great composer archetype (as personified by Beethoven) robs listeners of inspiring musical voices, including those of women. If any of that intrigues you, I’ll see you on Monday!

Also, you should like HHCP’s new Facebook page for news, reminders, and tidbits about the works they’re spotlighting.

More information about the concert and the season here!

clara-schumann

Clara Wieck Schumann, here seen gazing dolefully at you, wondering why you aren’t coming to hear her work performed by some of the greatest musicians in the Twin Cities

 

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Women of Note at St. Paul’s Hill House!

Here are some of my favorite things:

  • Chamber music
  • Female composers
  • the Minnesota Orchestra
  • Minnesota history
  • Architecture
  • the Cathedral Hill neighborhood of St. Paul
  • Post-concert refreshments

Lucky for me, all of those passions are combining in a single project this season. The Hill House Chamber Players are devoting their 2016/2017 season to spotlighting works by women, and they invited me to give a pre-concert talk before every show.

The Hill House Chamber Players consist of some of the area’s most talented musicians, including some Minnesota Orchestra players. Together they perform in the James J. Hill House gallery, which used to be lined with art now at Mia. (I once heard a rumor that Jules Breton’s painting The Song of the Lark – which Willa Cather featured in her novel by the same name – hung in the Hill House gallery for a while, but I’ve never been able to prove or disprove that…) It’s a very cozy and intimate venue, and I’m really looking forward to chatting with audiences there.

Here’s the schedule:

October 10 & 17, 2016

  • Amy Beach: Quintet for Piano and Strings in F-sharp minor, Op 67
  • Judith Lang Zaimont: Calendar Collection for Solo Piano (excerpts)
  • Robert Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Opus 44

March 6 & 13, 2017

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, K.493
  • Rebecca Clarke: Viola Sonata
  • Clara Wieck Schumann: Piano Trio in G minor, Op 17

May 1 & 8, 2017

  • Lili Boulanger: Two Morceaux: Nocturne and Cortege
  • Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel: Piano Trio in D minor, Op 11
  • Gabriel Faure: Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op 15

For more information on the season, and for pricing, click here!

I want to thank the HHCP for having the guts to commit so wholeheartedly to their theme. When was the last time you heard of a chamber music series season that consists of two-thirds female composers?

It’s a little early to know for sure, but it feels like works by women are gaining ground locally this year. Not only are the HHCPs committing wholeheartedly, but The Musical Offering is presenting works by Elsa Barraine and Lili Boulanger as part of their broader 2016/2017 theme of “Emigrés and Mentors.” If you have more examples of recent or upcoming local concerts featuring the work of women, please post in the comments!

I’m optimistic that one of these decades, works by women might even show up in a meaningful way at a big-budget organization like the Minnesota Orchestra. But until they do, support your local chamber music scene. Inevitably, chamber music is where innovation starts.

I look forward to seeing you guys at the Hill House!

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Dead Women Are Dead To American Orchestras

If you spend any time in the online orchestra world, you’ve probably seen the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s infographic about American orchestras’ 2014/15 seasons. A few days ago, the BSO released figures tracking the 15/16 season, and this year, the data net has been cast even wider. Writer Ricky O’Bannon describes the methodology:

This season we collected programming data for both major American symphonies as well as smaller regional orchestras — 89 in total — to give a more holistic view of symphonic repertoire in the United States.

My thoughts after reading that:

Oh, cool! With so many more orchestras included in the data-gathering this year, surely the proportion of living and historic women composers has skyrocketed, or at least inched upward gradually!

Hahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha.

Last season, the works of female composers accounted for 14.3% of the performances of living composers (and a mere 1.8% of the performances overall). This year, even with the wider field? 14% and 1.7%, respectively.

And then there’s this little asterisk at the bottom of the graph.

every composer

*deep breath*

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Look, I know it’s hard for orchestras to program works outside The Canon. And at this point, pretty much every orchestral work by women is outside The Canon. But no one in the bunch of eighty-nine orchestras wanted to program a single work by a female composer once? No one thought that would be musically or historically or politically or culturally interesting? No one thought that would be unique or exciting? No one thought that would be fantastic press release material? No one thought that would excite donors? No one thought that would advance orchestras’ missions to broaden audiences or educate communities? No one saw this as The Easiest Way Ever to outperform peer organizations? For crap’s sake, a random orchestra could program a dead lady’s ten-minute overture once, and wow, suddenly they’re playing 100% more historic women than any other orchestra in America! Congratulations, random orchestra! Your commitment to underrepresented demographics is palpable.

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The 2015 Song of the Lark Award for Demographically Diverse Orchestral Programming

And hell, it’s not like I’m asking every orchestra to throw an annual month-long Vagina Festival. It just would have been nice to see one orchestra play one work by one woman at one point. I thought that someone, somewhere, would throw us a pity Gaelic Symphony or Farrenc third or Clara Schumann concerto. But, nope.

Anyway. I would love to offer probing analysis. But it’s pretty f***ing hard to analyze the number zero.

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Can American Orchestras Do Better At Including Women Composers?

This is a follow-up to the recent widely-read entry In Which I Learn Why There Are No Great Women Composers. Liane Curtis got in touch with me during the hullabaloo, wondering if I would be interested in covering the grants made available by Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy. I didn’t have time to write anything this week, so I invited her to post a guest entry. According to her bio:

Liane Curtis is a musicologist and the founder and President of both The Rebecca Clarke Society, and Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy, non-profit organizations which are based at the WSRC [Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University]. A former Fulbright Scholar, Liane has taught at a wide range of colleges and universities, including Wellesley, Ohio State, and (in 2011 and 2007) at Brandeis University. She has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Bay Windows, The Musical Times, The New Grove Dictionary of Music, the National Women’s Studies Association Journal, Women’s Enews, The Gay and Lesbian Review, and other publications. In October 2006, Liane was a Fellow in the National Endowment for the Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera.

An impressive resume, but for me the thing that stands out about Liane is that she Cares Deeply About This Stuff. About a year ago, when I was beginning my study of the Clarke viola sonata, I sent her an email asking where the manuscript was. She sent me a link to a PDF of it right away. Never mind I was a largely self-taught violist based out of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who had no plans to perform the piece publicly. (The manuscript, by the way, is fascinating – a must-read for any violist – and can be perused here.) She cares, and she was excited that I care, and that generous and free exchange of knowledge is hugely meaningful and exciting and awesome. Agree or disagree with any of her premises, she is a woman on a mission, and I appreciate that.

So here is her guest entry. If you’re connected with an organization that is looking for grants, take note! – Emily

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Can American orchestras do better at including – rather than excluding – women composers???

And can the grants offered by Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy help?

by Guest Blogger Liane Curtis

The recent inflammatory article in the Spectator (by Damian Thompson – no link here so you don’t encourage the clickbait), squashed so deftly by Emily E. Hogstad in this blog, and on New Music Box, reveals an overt instance of how deep-seated, hostile bias against women composers continues to survive. While overtly sexist statements such as those in the Spectator article are not as common as they were in the past, these same values are played out routinely in the current practice of dismissing and ignoring music by women. In short, when we see many orchestras routinely programming NOT ONE  SINGLE work composed by a female in their entire season of classical orchestral programming, it is agreeing with Damian Thompson’s ignorant opinion that “there are no great women composers, [and] that’s because creative geniuses are rare and, in the past, so few women wrote music. There may be some in the future…” The orchestras that are in this group this season (2015-2016) include: the Cleveland Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony and Utah Symphony. Just to point out one grievous case, the San Francisco Symphony is based in the city that was the home of The Women’s Philharmonic for all of its 20-plus years. Much of their past extensive fan base is there and would be eager to hear works by women. But one of our WPA supporters tells me that the SFS has excluded women composers in 17 of its past 20 seasons. The SFS prides itself for its creative, inventive programming, but to be so emphatic in ignoring women makes one wonder if there is some deep-set misogyny there.

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Five Takeaways From The Conversation on Female Composers (Link)

Hey, y’all! I just wrote a follow-up to my last blog entry for NewMusicBox:

“Five Takeaways From The Conversation on Female Composers”

Many thanks to the fine folks over there. Feel free to continue the conversation! The places where I’d most like you to continue the conversation would be at local artistic committee meetings, at music stores, at your private teachers’, and anywhere else where repertoire is decided and debated.

It's been fun, Spectator!

It’s been fun, Spectator!

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In Which I Learn Why There Are No Great Women Composers

Lots of people have hobbies like knitting, jogging, or stamp collecting. Because I am the nerdiest nerd to ever nerd, the closest thing I have to a hobby is learning about the history of women in music. It’s a topic that doesn’t get as much press as the old chestnuts like “classical music is dying” or “Stradivari’s secret varnish” or “lockouts.” Nonetheless, once in a while the mainstream media will run articles about women composers, and when they do, I enjoy reading what other people have to say on the topic.

Today a very special article ran in the conservative British magazine The Spectator. It’s called “There’s A Good Reason Why There Are No Great Women Composers.” I’m not going to link to it for reasons that will gradually become obvious to you.

It begins:

Last week a 17-year-old girl forced the Edexcel exam board to change its A-level music syllabus to include the work of women composers.

Wow. A 17-year-old girl forced the Edexcel exam board to change its A-level music syllabus? How did she do this? Did she hack an extensive computer network? Did she threaten the board and then hold it hostage? Did she storm their office with firearms and issue terrifying proclamations with her foot resting upon the skulls of her enemies?

The truth is actually far more frightening: she began a change.org petition.

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Maddalena, Musicology, & Me: Prologue

There is an elephant in the room, and that elephant is the fallout from the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.

Unfortunately, I can’t do much about that elephant right now. Crucial portions of the future of the elephant, which will determine how I ultimately react to the elephant, are being decided in closed door meetings. My poking the elephant could easily turn counterproductive. And rest assured, I work with friends behind the scenes every – single – day to do what I can to help the elephant; and I imagine many of you do, too. So until there is more concrete information about the state of the elephant, or the state of elephants in general, I want to move onto another topic that brings me joy, namely:

Discovering the work of a forgotten composer – resurrecting one of her compositions – musing on the (dangerous?) nature of our Sacred Canon of Western Art Music – learning what I can about period performance practice of the 1770s – taking up a new violin concerto – and writing about the journey for anyone who cares to read.

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Meet Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen. According to Wikipedia, she was born in 1745 (roughly a decade before Mozart) and she died in 1818 (roughly a decade before Beethoven). We don’t know a lot about her. What we do know, though, is fascinating. She was a violinist, composer, harpsichordist, singer, and businesswoman. When she was 21, she married another violinist and composer named Ludovico Sirmen. Ludovico eventually became involved with a countess, while Maddalena traveled across Europe with a priest. She performed in many of the cultural centers of her day and her work was widely praised. But unfortunately, if predictably, her extraordinary career was largely forgotten in the intervening centuries. In fact, if her name is ever mentioned today, it is invariably because her teacher Tartini (he of Devil’s Trill fame) once wrote her a famous letter about violin technique. But Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen was so much more than a Tartini student. In later blog entries, I’ll try to fill in some more of the details. But it’ll take some time and detective work. Continue reading

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Women as Musicians; Past and Present, 1895

Another article, another stereotyped view of women from the 1890s.  Once again, women are deemed capable of interpreting, but incapable of producing – seen as sub-par composers – and even accused of “retarding” the growth of musical understanding. And yet it is not a simple case of sexism, since women violinists are praised and men are insinuated to be unable to get in touch with their emotions. Understanding the role that gender has played in the history of music remains an elusive task…

This is from The Current Opinion, January 1895.

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T.L. Krebs…The Sewanee Review

Since the days of Gobi, the Hindoo goddess, of Miriam, the Jewish maiden, and of the Sirens of ancient Greek mythology, a woman has figured conspicuously in the development of music. Although she has never been a great productive genius, although she has never created symphonies, operas and oratorios of lasting value, her influence has been such that, without it, we could hardly conceive our music off the present to be possible. In music we need all the faculties, all the characteristics, in a word, all the personality of the human being. Since the nature of woman is such as man does not possess; since the elements of male and female individualism combined make up what we know as human mind and soul, it is evident that, without the assistance of woman, without her influence, her emotions, her intuitions and her prejudices, a full development of music would be impossible. Since music is the language of the emotions and appeals directly to the heart, it must necessarily affect strongly a being so preeminently emotional, one who consults the heart much oftener than the head. As there exists a clearly defined masculine and feminine element in the nature and construction of music, it is evident that there must also be the same condition in its interpreters.

The instrument justly considered to be most pre-eminently suited to women, because of its lightness, its form, the natural grace required in its treatment, but, above all, because of the deep poetry of its tones, its emotional qualities and its sympathetic appeals – the violin – was for years neglected by female musicians, for reasons which, plausible though they may seem, are, nevertheless, utterly without justification. Every twenty years ago it was an odd sight, and one that rarely failed to elicit visible and audible comment, not always charitable, when a girl or young woman carried a violin case through the streets of a city. Now it is quite different, thanks to a few noble women, who, not heeding this criticism as adverse as it was prejudiced, devoted themselves to the queen of all musical instruments. The violin, in the hands of a skilled female performer, appeals to the emotions of the listener as it does but rarely when played upon by a man, although the greatest depth and grandeur of which the instrument is capable have not yet been elicited by women.

Prominent among women who have composed music is Clara Schumann, who has published many more or less acceptable pieces of vocal and instrumental music. Fanny Hensel, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn, composed a number of songs and pianoforte pieces in the style of her illustrious brother. Josephine Lang, a friend of the Mendelssohns, also composed some pleasing vocal music. Louis Ruget composed songs that were admired and sung, for the time being, throughout France and Belgium. Marie Malibran, the great vocalist, was also the author of several fine songs. A few years ago an opera composed by Ingeborg von Bronsart, the celebrated pianist, was performed at Weimar under the direction of the composer. This opera met with a favorable reception both from the public and from the musicians of that great art center. Among the few women who have gained fame as writers on musical subjects are Elisa Polka, Mrs. Raymond-Ritter and Anna March, who have written some excellent sketches and essays.

But why is it that woman, who has gained the height of fame not alone as executive musician, but also as painter, poet and novelist, who has even manipulated the chisel and modeling-clay with success, and has attained renown at the bar and in the dissecting-room, has not excelled as a productive musician? Though woman is highly qualified by nature to express ideas in music as if they were the workings of her own soul, though she is peculiarly fitted to reflect the poetical nature of the art on the background of her own individuality, she cannot create these poetic reflections in compositions original with herself. Her nature is opposed to the cold reasoning and the solution of profound musical problems, such as must be encountered by the successful composer. This perhaps explains why there is not a single composition by a female musician  that bids fair to hold even the second or the third rank. As a teacher of music, except in the field of theory, woman has been eminently successful, though it is painfully obvious that some, by their incompetence and superficiality, have done much to retard a healthful growth of musical understanding. In this capacity women have a great and glorious future before them.

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Great Female Violinists: A List

The following is a list of professional women violinists who were born before 1920. It is by no means exhaustive, but as I get more and more information, expect more and more biographies. Let me know if your favorite isn’t on the list!

Remember, you can hear many of these women on my Youtube channel.

This list was last updated on 23 August 2011.

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Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969). Bacewicz was born in Poland and studied violin, piano, and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory. She studied under Carl Flesch in the 1930s. Later in life she shifted her professional focus away from performing and onto composition, a field in which she found great success. Her output includes seven violin concertos.

Grazyna Bacewicz

Ethel Barns (1874-1948). Barns was a British violinist, pianist, and composer. She and her husband, baritone Charles Phillips, established a concert series called (appropriately enough) the Barns-Phillips Chamber Concerts. She was passionate about furthering the cause of women in music, and she wrote at least two violin concertos.

Ethel Barns

Lady Ann Blunt (1837-1917). A granddaughter of Lord Byron, Lady Blunt was a polyglot, artist (she studied with John Ruskin), equestrian, and violinist. She and her husband, the adulterous Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, shared a mutual passion for Arabian horses. (In fact, according to Wikipedia, “the vast majority of purebred Arabian horses trace their lineage” to their stock.) She studied under violinist Leopold Jansa, who also taught Wilma Norman-Neruda. Her Stradivari, the 1721 Lady Blunt, was sold in 2011 for $15.9 million.

Lady Ann Blunt

Guila Bustabo (1916-2002). Bustabo was born in Manitowac, Wisconsin, and began to play the violin at the tender age of two. As a child she studied in Chicago and at the Juilliard School in New York. While living in Europe in the forties, Guila played under William Mengelberg, a conductor who came under criticism after the war for not doing more to resist the Nazis. General Patton actually arrested Guilia after hearing that she had worked with Mengelberg, although all charges against her were later dropped. According to Wikipedia, this incident limited her career opportunities in the United States; however, there are also indications that her bipolar disorder may also have contributed to her professional decline. Her recordings of the Sibelius, Bruch, and Wolf-Ferrari concertos (the latter of which was written for her) are landmarks in the discography. She later taught at the Innsbruck Conservatory and played in the Alabama Symphony.

Guila Bustabo

Lillian Shattuck (1857-1940). Shattuck studied under Julius Eichberg in Boston and around 1878 formed the first all-female string quartet in America, called, appropriately enough, the Eichberg Quartet. The members of the group traveled to Berlin to study under Joachim; reportedly he was so astonished to see an all-female group from America that he permitted them all entry to the Conservatory. Shattuck later became an important pedagogue in the Boston area.

Vivien Chartres (1893-1941). Chartres, the daughter of renowned author Annie Vivanti, was one of the foremost British prodigies of the late Victorian era. She was often compared in the press to Mischa Elman and Bronislaw Huberman, and she toured throughout Europe to great acclaim. Her mother wrote a fascinating novel loosely based on her life called The Devourers in 1910. In her later childhood, Chartres gave up touring, although she kept a violin for the rest of her life.

Vivien Chartres

Renée Chemet (c 1888-?). Chemet is somewhat of an enigma. She left us several lovely recordings, including one of the Japanese song Haru no umi (Sea in Springtime), but our knowledge of her career post-1930 is fuzzy. Some refer to her as “the French Kreisler.”

Renee Chemet

Jelly d’Aranyi (1893-1956). D’Aranyi was born in Budapest into a musical family (her great-uncle was Joseph Joachim, and her sister Adila was a famous violinist in her own right). She had fruitful creative relationships with many of the most important composers of the early twentieth century, including Ravel, Bartók, and Vaughan Williams. She was also a sensitive, and along with her sister Adila, she “uncovered” the Schumann violin concerto in a séance. (This is a rather long and interesting story.)

Jelly d'Aranyi

Santa della Pietà (early to mid-1700s). Santa della Pietà was a violinist, singer, and composer at the Ospedale della Pietà, a Venetian music school for female orphans. (Vivaldi famously taught at the Ospedale and wrote large amounts of repertoire for his female pupils.) She was only one of many talented women musicians (including women violinists) who worked at the Ospedale. See the documentary “Vivaldi’s Women” for more information.

Adila Fachiri (1886-1962). Fachiri was born in Budapest into a musical family (her great-uncle was Joseph Joachim and her sister Jelly d’Aranyi). She began to study violin when she was ten, but despite her relatively late start, she advanced extremely quickly. She married Alexander Fachiri in 1915. Several important composers dedicated works to her.

Adila Fachiri

Stefi Geyer (1888-1956). Geyer was born in Budapest, began playing the violin at the age of three, and proved to be a prodigy. She studied with Jenő Hubay in Budapest and toured throughout Europe as a child. When she was a teenager she met Béla Bartók, who promptly fell in love with her and wrote his first violin concerto for her. She never played the work…and never returned Bartók’s affections. Later in her life another composer Othmar Schoeck fell in love with her, and also wrote her a violin concerto. Geyer had a long successful career teaching and performing.

Stefi Geyer

Marie Hall (1884-1956). Hall was born to a poor family in northern England. She was a prodigy, but her family could not afford to send her to a prestigious institution to study. However, in 1901, upon the advice of Jan Kubelík, she made it into Ševčík’s studio in Prague. She had a fantastic debut in 1902 in that city and later became a sensation in London. Vaughan Williams wrote The Lark Ascending for her, and they consulted over revisions to the piece.

Marie Hall

May Harrison (1890-1959). May was one of four musical sisters (Beatrice was a cellist, Monica a singer, and Margaret a violinist). At eleven, May won a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Music. Later she studied in St. Petersburg with pedagogue Leopold Auer. She championed the Brahms double concerto (with Beatrice on cello) and the music of her fellow countryman Frederick Delius. Her quick-study skills were legendary: she learned the massively demanding Elgar concerto in two weeks.

May Harrison and her sister Beatrice

Leonora Jackson (1879-1969). Jackson was born in Boston and studied in Chicago, Paris, and Berlin. In Berlin she was a pupil of Joachim. Frances Cleveland, the former First Lady, provided Jackson with financial support for her studies. Jackson toured throughout the world, playing on a Stradivari from 1714. She retired upon her marriage at the age of 36.

Leonora Jackson

Hélène Jourdan-Morhange (1892-1961). Jourdan-Morhange was a close friend of Maurice Ravel’s (in fact, there is a rumor that he once proposed marriage to her). She met him after a performance in which she played his piano trio. Ravel dedicated his sonata for violin and piano to her, but arthritis kept her from ever performing it. He mused about writing a violin concerto for her, but unfortunately this project never materialized. She later wrote a book about her friendship entitled Ravel et nous.

Helene Jourdan-Morhange

Daisy Kennedy (1893-1981). Kennedy was born in south Australia. She began learning the piano at four and the violin at seven. When Jan Kubelík came to visit Australia, she secured a meeting with him, as well as a letter of recommendation to Kubelík’s teacher, Sevcik. She was a great musical success in both Europe and the United States. She is distantly related to violinist Nigel Kennedy.

Daisy Kennedy

Teresa Milanollo (1827-1904). Milanollo was one of the first great female violinists. Despite her being a girl, her father encouraged her studies and even relocated from Italy to Paris so that she might learn from the best teachers. She and her violinist sister Maria made an extraordinary impact on the European music scene in the 1840s, creating sensations akin to those that greeted Paganini and Liszt. One of her great passions was charity work. She largely retired from the concert stage after her marriage at the age of thirty. Despite her relatively short career, she opened many doors for the multitudes of female violinists who would follow in her footsteps.

Teresa Milanollo

Alma Moodie (1898-1943). Moodie was born in Australia. When she was nine, she won a scholarship to study at the Brussels Conservatory. As a teenager, she befriended famous composer Max Reger, who conducted and accompanied her at many of her concerts, and dedicated his Praludium und Fuge for solo violin to her. For a variety of reasons, she did not play much during World War I, and after the War, she studied under Carl Flesch to rehabilitate her playing (Flesch said that of all his students, she was the one he liked best). She had a brief affair with Gustav Mahler’s daughter’s ex, but eventually married a German lawyer named Alexander Spengler, who was not particularly supportive of her career. Details of her tragically young death, at the age of forty-five, are hazy. She never made a single recording.

Wilhelmina Norman-Neruda, later Lady Hallé (c 1838-1911). Wilhelmina was born into a musical family of prodigies. During her childhood, the violin was not considered to be an appropriate instrument for a lady, so her father encouraged her to play the piano instead. But when he discovered playing her brother’s violin in secret, he relented. She made her first public appearance at seven. Her first marriage was to Swedish composer Ludwig Norman; after his death, she married pianist and conductor Charles Hallé. She was considered to be one of the great violinists of the age, especially in her adopted country of Britain. For a longer biography, click here.

Wilma Neruda

Ginette Neveu (1919-1949). Neveu was born in Paris into a musical family. (Her brother Jean-Paul became a professional pianist who often accompanied her.) She made her orchestral debut at the age of seven. When she was fifteen, she was the winner of the Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition, beating out a 29-year-old David Oistrakh. Neveu died in a plane crash at the age of thirty; her death is one of the great musical tragedies of the twentieth century.

Ginette Neveu

Kathleen Parlow (1890-1963). Parlow was born in Alberta and was one of the first great instrumentalists to come out of Canada. She and her mother moved to San Francisco in 1894, where she began to take violin lessons. She made astonishingly quick progress and by 1906 she had secured a coveted place in the legendary St. Petersburg studio of Leopold Auer. According to Wikipedia, “Kathleen Parlow…[was] the first foreigner to attend the St. Petersburg Conservatory. In her class of forty-five students, Parlow was the only female.” She had an international career as both a soloist and a quartet player, and later became a teacher at Juilliard and University of Western Ontario.

Kathleen Parlow

Maud Powell (1867-1920). Powell was born into a progressive family in Peru, Illinois. She studied in Chicago as a child, then later in Europe with Schradieck, Dancla, and Joachim. As a teenager, she secured her New York Philharmonic debut by walking into the hall and demanding the conductor listen to her play. She was hired on the spot. She was one of the most important American instrumentalists of her day, male or female, and was the first great American violinist who could stand comparison with the best of the European-born virtuosi. She premiered the Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, and Sibelius concertos in America; she was the first white musician to include the works of black composers in her programs; and she was one of the very first recording stars. She is one of the bright shining lights of American music history.

Maud Powell

Emily Shinner (1862-1901). We don’t know a tremendous amount about Shinner, but we do know that she was one of the first female students to study under Joachim in Berlin. Later in her career she became a specialist in chamber music, and the Shinner Quartet, which was made up of women, became internationally renowned. She died at the age of 39 after giving birth to a still-born son.

Maddelena Lombardini Sirmen (1745-1818). Sirmen was born in Venice and studied at one of the many music schools there. She studied under the legendary virtuoso Giuseppe Tartini, and he once wrote a letter to her about violin technique that has since become famous. When she was 22, she married a violinist named Ludovico Sirmen, and the two toured and composed together. Later in her career she began to perform as a singer, although she was not as successful a singer as she was a violinist.

Maddelena Lombardini Sirmen

Marie Soldat Roeger (1863-1955). Soldat was born in Graz, Austria, and began to study the violin in 1871. She was also a gifted pianist and vocalist, and it wasn’t until 1879 that she decided to focus on the violin. That same year she came to the attention of both Brahms and Joachim, both of whom aided her in her musical studies. She became closely associated with the Brahms violin concerto, and she – not Joachim – was the one who introduced it to many European cities. Rachel Barton Pine now plays her 1742 del Gesu, which Brahms arranged for Soldat to acquire.

Marie Soldat

Leonora von Stosch, later Lady Speyer (1872-1956). Von Stosch was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of a professional writer mother and a Civil War veteran father. She studied in Brussels, Paris, and Leipzig. She first married Louis Meredith Howland, but that marriage ended in divorce; later, she married Sir Edgar Speyer. She was well-known in Edwardian music circles in Britain, and she was the one who premiered portions of the Elgar violin concerto in private performance. She suffered an injury that kept her from playing the violin professionally, and so she began to explore her interest in writing. Her book Fiddler’s Farewell won the 1927 Pulitzer Prize.

Leonora von Stosch

Regina Strinasacchi Schlick (c 1761-1839). Strinasacchi was born near Mantua, Italy, and studied at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. She toured Europe as a young woman, and while in Vienna in 1784, she met none other than Wolfgang Mozart. He was impressed by her talent, and composed a violin and piano sonata for the two of them to play together (K454). Mozart waited to compose the piece until the last minute. Strinsacchi had to learn the new piece very quickly, and Mozart himself played without sheet music. The next year she married a cellist named Johann Conrad Schlick. She also played guitar and composed.

Arma Senkrah (1864-1900). Senkrah’s real name was Anna Harkness; she arrived at her pseudonym by writing her real name backward. (Once, in sly homage, conductor Hans von Bülow signed an autograph to her as “Snah nov Wolub.”) She was an American, but came to study in Europe in 1873, and in 1881 she won the first prize at the Paris Conservatoire. Eventually came to the attention of none other than Franz Liszt, who worked with her a great deal and praised her talents highly. At her husband’s insistence, she gave up her career after her marriage. She committed suicide in 1900, supposedly after he fell in love with another woman.

Arma Senkrah

Teresina Tua (1866-1956). Tua was born in Turin, Italy, to a musical family. She began playing the violin when she was six, and it wasn’t long before she was touring through Europe. She studied with Joseph Lambert Massart (Kreisler’s teacher), but in 1880, she won a major prize at the Paris Conservatoire and left the school. As a beautiful young woman, she bewitched European audiences throughout the 1880s, although much to her disappointment she received lukewarm reviews in America. In 1890 she married, went into semi-retirement, and gave birth to a pair of twins (who later died young). She eventually returned to the concert platform, touring with no less a pianist than Rachmaninoff. Later in life she became a teacher. In 1940 she sold all of her possessions, gave the money to the poor, and entered a convent.

Teresina Tua

Camilla Urso (1842-1902). Urso was born in Nantes, France, the daughter of a flautist and a singer. As a six-year-old, she insisted upon learning to play the violin, despite the fact it was considered to be a masculine instrument. Thankfully, her father recognized talent when he saw it, and he championed his talented daughter, persuading the officials at the Paris Conservatoire to accept her. She had a professional career that spanned half a century and four continents, but she was especially beloved in her adopted homeland of America.

Camilla Urso

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